Y Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Materion Gwledig - Y Bumed Senedd
Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee - Fifth Senedd17/09/2020
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Janet Finch-Saunders MS|
|Jenny Rathbone MS|
|Joyce Watson MS|
|Llyr Gruffydd MS|
|Mike Hedges MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Neil Hamilton MS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Dean Medcraft||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Dr Christianne Glossop||Y Prif Swyddog Milfeddygol|
|Chief Veterinary Officer|
|Gian Marco Currado||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|John Howells||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Lesley Griffiths MS||Gweinidog yr Amgylchedd, Ynni a Materion Gwledig|
|Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs|
|Tim Render||Llywodraeth Cymru|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Andrea Storer||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Craig Griffiths||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Elizabeth Wilkinson||Ail Glerc|
|Marc Wyn Jones||Clerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 13:45.
The committee met by video-conference.
The meeting began at 13:45.
Can I welcome Members to the first virtual meeting of the autumn term? Can I first of all welcome Janet Finch-Saunders to the committee? Welcome, Janet. Janet is replacing Andrew R.T. Davies as the new permanent member. Can I record my thanks, and I'm sure the committee's thanks, to Andrew Davies for his contribution to the committee work during the last several years?
As you all know, the meeting is bilingual, there's simultaneous translation and we've all set up our translations, so we should all be okay if we need it. Microphones will be controlled centrally. Note for the record: if for any reason I drop out, Jenny Rathbone will take over as Chair. Have Members got any declarations of interest that aren't on the register? No.
Can I welcome Lesley Griffiths, the Minister? Would her officials like to introduce themselves for the record? Starting with you, Tim.
Tim Render, I'm director of environment and rural affairs.
Gian Marco Currado. Good afternoon, everyone. I'm director of environment and marine.
You're muted, Dean.
'Unmute' should come up on your screen.
Sorry. Dean Medcraft, director of finance and operations, economy, skills and natural resources group.
Thank you. Christianne—
Prynhawn da. John Howells, director of energy and climate change.
Christianne Glossop, Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales.
Thank you, all. You're all very welcome. If we can move straight to questions, I've got some questions on animal welfare. The first one will come as no surprise to the Minister: what is the current status of Lucy's law?
As I think I mentioned at the last committee I appeared at, Chair, we're no longer calling it Lucy's law, it's the ban on third-party sales. As you know, Chair, I committed to introducing this secondary legislation before the end of this Senedd term, and, whilst I have to say, it's extremely tight time-wise, we are on track to do so. I went out to consultation earlier in the summer; that consultation is now finished. I don't intend to consult again. I know the committee did ask me if I would be doing that. You may remember, Chair, that you also said to me that the committee would stand ready to help me do all I can to introduce this secondary legislation. It's very important to me personally, as I think it is to all members of the committee, and, clearly, to the people of Wales also, looking at the correspondence we've received around it. So, the current position is we are on track to introduce it, and hopefully it will be in place before the end of this Senedd term.
I reiterate our commitment to do whatever we can in order to get this piece of legislation through. It's like a lot of things; like lockdown, you can call things what you like, but there's a view out in the public and the media that it's Lucy's law. I'm afraid that that is what it's going to be known as in the public domain.
I think so, but you can see the chief veterinary officer shaking her head. If we could start to use the correct terminology, I think it would be helpful, but I absolutely understand what you're saying.
Two other questions. There's an updated code of practice for rabbits that is due. Do you know what stage that's at?
I don't, but I will ask Christianne if she can tell me anything about that particular code of practice. I'm sure you're aware resources are incredibly stretched at the moment, but maybe Christianne could give me an update.
Thank you, Minister. So, on all our welfare codes, we have a continual programme of review and republishing. The rabbit code, as far as I recall, is in near-final draft. I can't give you a date for publication, I'm afraid. It's an interesting one, the rabbit code, because, of course, rabbits fulfil many functions. They are companion animals, they're used in research and they're also used for meat production, and yet the welfare needs of a rabbit are the same, regardless of their future intention, and that's why it's quite tricky to draft.
I wasn't trying to give the impression it was easy. One of the things that concerns me is the treatment of animals that are kept as pets. I don't think the vast majority of people actually mean to harm them or treat them badly, but ignorance can lead to animals being not as well looked after as they ought to be. Tethered horses are a bugbear for almost all of us who live in urban areas. You find a piece of land, people tether horses there without any food, without any shelter, without any water. Are we going to bring any further legislation in to deal with tethered horses? Because I think we've only to go two miles from where I am now, and we had to get the RSPCA out there and the police because horses that were emaciated are just being left on a hillside, tethered.
We don't intend to bring forward any further legislation at the moment. As you are aware, we've got the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which can deal with such cases. I think you're absolutely right about people who sometimes get pets that they don't know how to look after. Education is obviously vitally important, and, I think, the work that the RSPCA do, and other organisations do, to make sure that people understand that. I remember I went out on a visit—I'm sure other members of the committee have done this—with the RSPCA, and I remember visiting one house in particular where there had been a report of animal cruelty, and clearly the guy didn't intend to be cruel at all, he just didn't really understand how to keep—. It was the number of pets that he had rather than the types, but I think you raise a very important point. But we do have the necessary legislation in place without introducing any new legislation.
Thank you very much. On to Joyce Watson and fisheries.
Good afternoon, Minister. Since we last met there has been a lot of support gone in to the fishing industry in Wales, and it's been well received by all the reports that I've had, particularly because the fishing industry in Wales is usually carried out with small operations, small fishing vessels and the like. Also, I know that you've put out a statement in terms of the fisheries Bill, so my question to you really is: I know it's been a long time coming, I know that there's been a lot of work that's gone into it, but I'd like to, on behalf of all the fishing people in Wales, have an update from you at this committee on the state of play of that fisheries Bill, and what exactly that's going to mean for those people occupied in this industry.
Thank you, Joyce. You'll be aware I made a statement earlier this week in relation to the responses we'd received around 'Brexit and our Seas'. I had hoped to make a statement much, much earlier in the year, I think it was back in March, just after we went into lockdown, but obviously COVID-19 put that to one side. So, we are behind with this piece of work. There is no way now I will be able to bring forward a fisheries Bill, which I had hoped to, ahead of the end of the Senedd term. The responses that we've received will now feed into any possible White Paper that we will be able to bring forward.
Just in response to the first part of your question, which was around support for fisheries, again, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic we realised that we would have to bring some funding forward specifically for our fishermen. As you say, a lot of them are very small vessels, and they are one-man or one-woman bands, so it was really important to do that, so I managed to find some funding to be able to do that. Clearly now we're hurtling towards EU transition and exit day. Again, we're going to have to look at what support our fishers are going to need. We know our shellfish in particular are very much at threat of a 'no deal' Brexit, and clearly, I would say, at the moment the chances of a 'no deal' exit from the European Union are incredibly high.
Thank you for that, but it is a real threat, the 'no deal' Brexit particularly, as you say, to the shell fisheries in Wales, and they're right across my area, of course. Most of it is exported, and if those markets close down, their industry and their livelihood has gone immediately, overnight. So what sort of conversations are you having to try to protect those people who are so heavily dependent on this for a living?
It will be incredibly difficult if we do have a 'no deal' Brexit and no trade agreement with the European Union. I think it's 90 per cent of our shellfish that are exported. They're collected in the Menai straits, the mussels, and they appear in a Spanish restaurant, probably, within 24 hours. So things like being held up at the port, for instance, they are all real threats to the industry. So these discussions have been ongoing since back in June 2016, or certainly very soon after the referendum result. I had a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs inter-ministerial group meeting on Monday—you might have heard me refer to it yesterday in questions—where these sort of discussions are always brought up, not just by me but by my counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland. You'll be aware of the fishing industry in Scotland in particular. So, they're facts that the UK Government are very aware of and, clearly, our fishers will need a lot of support if we do have a 'no deal' Brexit.
My final question: the last time we spoke, there was evidence of an awful lot of illegal fishing that was happening, and I know that you were putting resources towards trying to deal with that. Have you got any update that you can give me on the state of play with illegal fishing? I'm particularly interested in the scallop dredging off Cardigan bay, because there were reports about illegal scallop dredging, and that would have such long-term implications for all the habitats that depend on that, and it takes an awfully long time to recover.
When I came in front of committee, I think it was back in July, I think I said there was evidence of some illegal activity. I don't think it was a great deal of activity. Clearly, during the beginning of the pandemic, our fisheries enforcement vessels weren't able to patrol in the way that we would normally expect them to do, however all our vessels are now out and have been out probably for about six weeks now. So, clearly, that will have an impact on any illegal activity that could have been going on.
It was really important to get those enforcement vessels out as quickly as we could. As you know, we put significant funding into getting new vessels, which I think, looking back, was quite prescient of us, particularly ahead of EU transition. And, again, this is something that I discuss with my DEFRA counterparts, because it is an issue. Once we leave the European Union, we are very concerned about an increase in illegal activity.
In relation to scallops, I'll ask Gian Marco if he's got anything that he can say about scallop dredging, but I haven't had anything come across my desk in relation to that.
Apologies, Minister, I didn't press the button quickly enough. No, nothing specific in terms of illegal scallop dredging. Just to confirm what the Minister has said more generally, we've actually been able to bolster our human resources in the enforcement space. So, we are bringing in and have been bringing in additional colleagues to help us with onshore and offshore enforcement. All our vessels are now out and, in fact, we have been reacting over the last few weeks to intelligence that's been passed on to us from fishers and their representatives, and tasking the vessels to look at some of that. So the enforcement functions are now fully operational and hopefully will act as a disincentive as well to anybody who is thinking of acting illegally.
Okay. On to food and drink with Jenny Rathbone.
Thank you. Minister, I want to look at the points you made in your letter to us on 9 September in relation to food supply and food security. I was surprised to read that you say that recent assessments haven't identified immediate risks and, overall, the food system is secure. I acknowledge that the food distribution system has worked well in response to COVID, but unfortunately that is not the only challenge we face. The shocks to the system that may result from no trade deal with the European Union are hovering above us, and already I am noticing the shortage of vegetables and fruit—everyday vegetables and fruit—which are not there in the wholesale markets in Cardiff. I note that you have said in your letter that there is an exception around both the service sector, which is not really what we want to go into, but the wholesale sector, and I wondered how much of this absence of vegetables and fruit is due to problems in the wholesale market caused by COVID, or whether it's all down to our disrupted relationship with both Europe in terms of migrant labour and also just trade lines.
I suppose there are two issues around food. There are the difficulties we saw at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic where we saw people panic buying et cetera. So, as you say, I referred to that in my letter to you because the scrutiny session was mainly around COVID-19 and our response to that. There are certainly no issues regarding food supplies at a regional or a national level now. I think the problems we saw in the beginning were around that panic buying and I think supermarkets have coped admirably, and I think our wholesalers have made sure there's been a fair distribution right across Wales; I haven't had issues around rural communities not getting stocks et cetera. So, I think, in fairness, we have had—. I may have said this last time—I think we were incredibly fortunate not to see areas where food was in short supply.
Clearly, looking now as we come to the end of the EU transition period and if we are going into next year with a 'no deal' Brexit, there could be, obviously, concerns around that. And again, at a UK level—because food supply and food security is something that we look at at a UK level; it's discussed at our regular meetings—I'm certainly not aware of any systemic shortages. We had a bit of short-term bad weather in southern Europe that impacted a little bit on some of our fruit and veg that we would normally get from Europe. And again, it's a seasonal transition point, so some things could be seasonally low, but there is clearly no concern about food security or food supply at the current time.
Okay, but we are at the moment in what is supposed to be the season of abundant harvest, and yet we are seeing an absolute shortage of basic veg and fuit—I agree not in the supermarkets because they've locked their suppliers into pretty ruthless contracts that will lead to very serious penalties if they don't deliver. But a lot of people rely on the convenience stores and on ordinary food markets to get their fruit and veg supplies, and we know anecdotally that a lot of produce that has been grown has been left lying in the fields, uncollected. So, I'm really concerned that we are suddenly going to wake up to a massive problem, particularly if there's a disruption caused by a no trade deal.
You and I had a conversation about this earlier this week, so I did ask officials to speak to a number of wholesalers and organisations involved in the horticulture sector in south Wales and also across the country. They've been reassured there are no supply issues affecting supply.
The point you made—and I didn't respond to you, sorry—in your earlier question around migrant workers—. Again, I've spoken to farming unions, for instance, to see if they've had any issues and, certainly, at the beginning of, I suppose, spring time we were concerned that we wouldn't see the number of migrant workers that we normally see and normally help with picking the fruit and veg in the summer because of COVID. Again, that hasn't seemed to have materialised into the concerns that we thought that we would have earlier in the season. So, as I say, I am not receiving—. And I know what you're saying about anecdotal, but I have asked officials to check with the wholesalers, and we certainly haven't been told of any major concerns.
Okay. To mitigate against the fact that we are relying on a UK food security system, has any initiative taken place by your Government to increase the amount of vegetables and fruit that we grow here in Wales, because if there's a shortage, for sure it'll go to London first?
So, as you know, we've put a great deal of effort into horticulture. It is a very small part of the agricultural sector here in Wales, and we are supporting it in a way that we hope will bring forward an increase in those supplies. We've really tried very hard, particularly over the last 18 months, to raise the profile of our Welsh growers and our horticulturists, and also promote Welsh horticultural produce. And, again, COVID-19—one of the things that's been most pleasing is the way that people have supported their local shops and growers and producers in a way that hadn't happened before. So, we're hopeful we can lock in that behaviour going forward, and if we do see food shortages, if we do have a 'no deal' Brexit, then all the work that we've done to prepare last year and the work that we've done this year in relation to the pandemic will obviously stand us in good stead.
Okay. I hope you're right. Thank you.
Joyce Watson. You're still muted, Joyce. You're okay now.
I raised my hand, so is it that you're responding to?
Okay. Right, thank you; I just wanted to be sure.
In terms of food production, we've seen several outbreaks in food manufacturing as a consequence of COVID—living conditions, working conditions et cetera. And we also are acutely aware now, at the moment, that there is an increase in the outbreak of infection in Wales and right across the piece. So, just moving on from what Jenny was talking about, the actual producing, I want to talk about the manufacturing and delivery of food and how prepared we are, with that workforce that has been identified as vulnerable going forward, so that we don't see processing plants close down, and also those people involved in the process of producing the food that we like to go and enjoy not becoming victims to the COVID infection because they're not being adequately either advised or looked after.
We certainly did see some outbreaks of COVID-19 in a number of food processing sites across Wales. One of the main ones was, obviously, in my own constituency, in Rowan Foods, so I'm very well aware of the issues around it. You mentioned the living conditions. Several of these food processing plants have a lot of agency workers, a lot of migrant workers, who, as you say, live in the same building, quite often in houses in multiple occupation, and travel to work together. So, there were clearly lots of issues that led to those outbreaks. Sometimes, it's very difficult to have the 2m social distancing in these processing plants too. Fortunately, the outbreaks were dealt with very swiftly by many organisations, Welsh Government obviously being one of them.
At the time of the outbreak, I asked two of the people who lead Food Innovation Wales, David Lloyd in Cardiff and Martin Jardine in Llangefni, to look at a piece of work for me, not just around food processing plants, but right across our food and drink producers, to see what they could do to ensure that they didn't have outbreaks as much as possible. It was a very, very swift and rapid piece of work that came up with some advice and information and solutions. We then held a—. I think there have been two webinars now—I was only able to attend the first one—where that information was dispersed in a way that I think has been really helpful—certainly the feedback I've had from many food and drink producers is that it was incredibly beneficial for them. We're now going back to all the food and drink producers who contacted Food Innovation Wales or who were part of that webinar to ask specific questions, so that it can be a bit more bespoke, if you like, rather than the general piece of work that Food Innovation Wales undertook in the first place.
The food centres—we have another one that you probably know better in Ceredigion, in Borth. They've been asked to support our food and drink businesses, and in particular, those critical control points, such as abattoirs and wholesalers and other key businesses that could be susceptible to future outbreaks. There's been detailed operational guidance brought forward after this report, and I've also got the food and drink industry board, which you're aware of, which advise me, and they also are developing communications with all sectors in the industry to make sure that everybody's aware of the meeting. In fact, I think on Monday I've got a meeting with the board to receive a progress report.
Thank you. Llyr Gruffydd.
Yes, thank you, Chair. I just wanted to ask whether the Government have made any representations on the UK Government's proposals to change the small breweries relief. I don't know if you know but it's relief in duty that's paid by small breweries. If you produce less than 5,000 hectare litres of beer in a year, then you get 50 per cent reduction in duty. The proposal is to reduce that threshold to 2,100 hectare litres, which will mean that, of course, all small breweries, more or less, in Wales, or at least I think around 80 or 90, will probably be affected by this. It's there to allow them to compete more effectively with the larger breweries, the multinational breweries particularly, so it would be a retrograde step. I know that they've already lost over 80 per cent of their sales during lockdown and to consider that kind of change at this particular period, or any period to be honest, isn't acceptable. So, I'm just wondering whether you've made any representations, knowing, of course, that we're all very proud of the growth that we've seen in that sector in Wales in recent years and we can all name Bragdy Lleu or Llangollen Brewery, Cwrw Iâl—we all know of those local breweries that we are proud of and enjoy their produce, and I'd like to see the Welsh Government standing up for them and making strong representations to the UK Government on this.
So, brewery relief—that has not been raised with me prior to you doing so, Llyr. It could be that the Minister for Finance and Trefnydd has done it through a different channel, but what I will do is check with her and if that's okay, Chair, provide a note to committee.
Yes, please. I've also got a lot of small breweries.
Yes, I'm very happy to make representations if colleagues want, but I will check to see if that's been done, as I say, by another Government department.
We'd appreciate that, because it is one of those sectors that's lauded in Wales as a success story—
—and anything that might undermine that would be—.
I recently met with a microbrewery and they didn't raise it with me, which is why I was thinking I hadn't heard about it before. I met some producers in the Wye valley. They've formed a co-operative and I think there were two microbreweries there. So, I will certainly check.
There we are. They're currently proposals, and they're waiting, I think, for final recommendations from the UK Government, so that would be very useful. Thank you for that.
I'll move forward, if I may, to the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. I think we're all very aware by now of the Government's view on that and they're views, of course, that Plaid Cymru share and we're also very concerned. The implications of the non-discrimination principle clearly are far-reaching—it'll leave the Senedd powerless, basically, to block food produced to different standards and rules in different parts of the UK. I'm just wondering what measures or what steps might you now be taking in anticipation of this Bill becoming law, for example to try and make sure that genetically modified crops or crops treated with harmful pesticides don't enter the market in Wales.
So, as Llyr points out, there are some grave concerns by so many of us around the internal market Bill. The Counsel General is leading on this, but obviously it was a standard—no, sorry, it was on the agenda on Monday at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs inter-ministerial group that I chaired. And I think I said in the Chamber yesterday that George Eustice basically said that myself and Scotland were being a bit 'glass half full' around it. We shall see, but, obviously, we have grave concerns. Interestingly, genetically modified did actually come up as an example, and the DEFRA Secretary of State clearly recognises there's a complete divergence on policy. In fact, I think, three countries are together on this, and one not. So, he's very aware, and that will be something that we will discuss at the next meeting, and I think officials will have ongoing discussions around that. We're having to look at lots of different areas where this will have an impact if the Bill, unfortunately, is passed, because, as you say, it's a complete assault on devolution and the decisions that we are able to take.
The plastic bag levy, potentially, could have been blocked under this proposed kind of scenario.
There are lots and lots of examples, as you say, and that's not a political thing, really. If you look at the plastic bag levy, it's accepted by everybody, isn't it, now? But you're absolutely right to point it out.
The UK Government's White Paper that preceded the Bill used the example of Welsh milk to make the case for non-discrimination, and I'll just quote briefly:
'if Wales specified that milk cannot be transported more than a certain distance which meant that in effect most milk from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland could not be sold in Wales, this could be viewed as a case of indirect discrimination.'
Now, I'm a bit worried about that sort of phrase, really, because it feels like a bit of a slippery slope—that the Welsh Government might be blocked because of some form of indirect discrimination. Are you clear in relation to what that could mean, because, for me, it could mean anything?
Yes, I agree. As I say, this is something that we're looking at very closely at the moment. I don't know if Tim's got anything he can add to this at the moment.
No, I think, Minister, you've covered most of that. There's a whole range of these examples where we might be able to do something in Wales, but the product would still be in free circulation if it was a valid product in some other part of the UK. So, there's a whole range of those examples that have been flagged and it's all part of the much wider political issue around this.
Okay. Thank you. The final point I'd like to make, really, is that regulatory equivalence alone doesn't necessarily negate unfair competition or guarantee a level playing field if, for example, the systems of financial support within agriculture vary across the UK and certain parts of the UK maybe find themselves with more favourable, shall we say, financial support. So, are you expecting greater harmonisation in terms of financial support to agriculture as a result of this Bill?
Across the UK?
No. We've always made it very clear that our agricultural policy post EU exit would be the one that we thought was right for Wales. So, we are, obviously, continuing to do that.
But you understand my question?
Yes, I understand your point, but I want to say, 'It's called devolution, isn't it?', but I don't think—
Yes, and, as I say, if there's an assault on that devolution—. But I don't think that would have an impact on that policy going forward. But as you unpick the Bill, more and more things, obviously, are becoming slightly clearer, so we'll have to look at that.
It could mean indirect discrimination if—. Well, there we are. Okay. It is a concern we need to be alive to, I think, because if we're serious about a level playing field, then regulation is only one part of that equation. There are other factors that can influence to as, if not a greater, extent to ensure that we have a level playing field or not.
Thank you. Jenny Rathbone—air quality.
Thank you very much. Obviously, one of the few benefits of the terrible pandemic was a reduction in carbon emissions and an increase in the flourishing of nature. Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation have shared data collected by Swansea University, which highlights that the reduction in pollution is significantly lower where road-side emissions were the main contributory factor. However, we all know that traffic has resumed to pretty much previous levels, so I just wondered what the appetite was by local authorities and other partners you're going to need to work with on your new clean air plan to actually deliver clean air for all.
I think the point you make around the most significant impacts arising from reduced traffic levels is really a pertinent one. The air quality monitoring during the pandemic is quite a complicated picture that's been revealed, but certainly the first two months of lockdown really showed significant decreases in some pollutant levels, but other pollutant levels apparently increased at the same time. So, it's really important that we assess, on COVID-19, going forward with our response, all those impacts in order to inform the management of air pollution.
You mentioned the clean air plan, and I was very pleased to launch that on 6 August in Castle Street in Cardiff. Many of you will be aware that that street has now been closed; it's full of restaurants. I was very lucky to go there on a very lovely day like today and it was good to see people being able to enjoy the city centre in that way. As you know, the plan sets out a range of actions to deliver improvements in air quality across Wales, and obviously local authorities are one of our key partners in doing that.
I do still intend—just for the record—to publish a White Paper on a clean air Act for Wales before the end of the Assembly term. Again, the time frame is really tight but it is a priority. It was in the First Minister's manifesto and it's a priority for Welsh Government, so I do intend to do that before the end of the Assembly term—sorry, the Senedd term.
Obviously, it's great to see Castle Street not being used as a rat run by people wanting to cross one side of the city to another through the city centre, but what do you think the appetite is of Cardiff Council and other local authorities to take more stringent and permanent measures to restrict the use of private vehicles into city and town centres, which is one of the ways in which we can improve the health of our nation?
I think it's varied, it's safe to say, across all 22 local authorities. Certainly, Cardiff Council is the local authority I've had the most discussions with around this. When they closed Castle Street, as you say, I think, for them it was how they supported active travel. As you'll be aware, my colleague Lee Waters brought forward an active travel grant, which I think has been very well received by the majority of local authorities. I think all 22, if I'm right, but it might be 21—most of them—local authorities did put in for some funding from that grant scheme and it's been very well received. I know that Cardiff Council, from my discussions with them, are also going to announce—well, they're certainly expected to announce—the opening of their bus retrofit scheme at the end of this month, and they're looking at the scheme running from October to December. That's about funding the cost of fitting emission abatement technology to diesel buses. So, I think there's a significant appetite there, but it's probably varied across all 22 local authorities.
Okay. Well, controlling vehicle emissions is obviously one challenge, but there's also the important point about controlling emissions from agriculture. Could you tell us just exactly how your Government plans to tackle this?
Well, the clean air plan does set out a suite of measures for agriculture, as one of them, obviously. You'll be aware of voluntary actions that the sector has brought forward, and I've tried to support those as much as I can. The code of good agriculture practice has been in place for almost 30 years. Some progress has been made, but we haven't seen a long-term downward trend in the way that I would want to. I mentioned in the Chamber yesterday that we're still seeing far too many substantiated agricultural pollution incidents this year and, of course, not all were able to be looked at because of COVID-19. I think I mentioned there were over 100 up until the end of last month that NRW have reported. So, voluntary actions alone are not the answer, unfortunately, to this issue. I've got a duty to protect the nation's air, the water and the land, and I did lay the draft regulations around agricultural pollution earlier this year, however I don't think it's the appropriate time to bring them forward in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are still looking at what can be done and looking at how we can support farmers. So, when I met with the National Farmers Union on Monday, we were able to talk about the announcement I made last week about the additional £106 million of rural development programme funding. Some of that new funding will help with infrastructure, will help farmers with infrastructure to reduce emissions, and that was certainly very well received.
Okay. And finally, obviously, you've highlighted the contribution that bonfires and fireworks make to air pollution. It feels like a minor matter but, obviously, at certain times of the year, it becomes a major problem, and are there any proposals to control that in a much more significant way?
I know that I, and I think it was Hannah Blythyn, Deputy Minister in local government, wrote to the UK Government to see what we could do in this area. I'm not sure I've had a response yet, or, if I have, I haven't had sight of it recently. But I think it does cause concern and, as you say, certainly fireworks, I don't think, are used as much as they used to be, but it is something that people do write to me about, and I'm very happy to look at what we could do. I don't think we would ban fireworks—I'm not even sure we've got the powers to ban fireworks—but clearly it is an issue at certain times of the year, and it's something that I'm very happy to look at in partnership with my colleague Hannah Blythyn.
Can I come in on that point of the fireworks? I think that there probably are less, but they're giving off smoke the whole of the year—we have Christmas fireworks, we have Easter fireworks, we have summer fireworks, and they do cause a huge amount of concern. I could talk about air quality; it causes lots of concern about a whole range of other things. If we don't have the power, do local authorities have the power to bring in bye-laws to ban the use of fireworks at certain times of the year? A lot of my constituents are very aggrieved as to the fact that fireworks go off for no apparent reason in the middle of August or early September. We expect them to go off around 5 November, and it's actually got better in that time now, in that they don't go off from the beginning of September to 10 November. They tend to go off in a much shorter period in terms of the fireworks for Guy Fawkes. So, there are other reasons people have them, and there's probably not one month of the year that fireworks are not going off in Swansea East somewhere.
I don't know about bye-laws; I would have to look into that for you. But certainly, as Minister, the one area where I get the most complaints about fireworks is with pets, because clearly it causes a lot of concern to people with pets, many of whom are obviously very afraid of the noises. But we are investigating the effects of both bonfires and fireworks within the clean air plan.
Okay. Thank you. I don't think it's probably a good idea to start another topic at this stage, with two minutes to go to the break. So, can we break now and start back at 2.40 p.m.? Does that suit everybody? Let's have a break, then. Okay, thank you.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 14:28 a 14:40.
The meeting adjourned between 14:28 and 14:40.
Can I welcome Members, the Minister and the Minister's team back to the second session of the scrutiny session? The next item is agriculture, and, Jenny, do you want to start? We can't hear you. Thank you, we can now hear you.
Thank you. It follows neatly on from the conversations we were just having about food supplies. Dr Ludivine Petetin from Cardiff University has submitted evidence that we have to look at our agri-food supply chain post COVID in a rather different way because agricultural and food policies can't be kept apart. And so I just wondered how you're looking at this when you're thinking of taking forward the sustainable farming scheme.
So, we started a piece of work a little while ago called sustainable brand values, and that was part of making sure the agricultural sector and our food industry were much more closely aligned. We started that work probably three years ago. I think you're right, it is really important that we see the two hand in hand.
We've just actually started—I think it met for the first time last week; Tim might be able to say a little bit more about it—an EU agri-food supply chain stakeholder group. That's been developed to make sure that we engage all our key organisations and our stakeholders and our partners in planning the strategic direction of the way we go with our food and agri sectors post EU transition period. What I've asked them to have a look at is how—to look at the direction that we're going in and ensure that there's a sort of consistency of thinking with the two sectors, and that they're much more closely married up. I think it met last week for the first time—I'm just going to check with Tim, as he may know a bit more about it. Yes, he's nodding. There's representation from right across the food chain and the agricultural sector—obviously the farming unions, also the British Meat Processors Association, so perhaps some organisations that you wouldn't automatically think of. It's very new, but it's something that will help us going forward.
So, with the shock waves that might happen if we don't have a trade deal with the European Union—this isn't just about supplies coming in, but also the volcano that would erupt in terms of those of our farmers who export to Europe. So, diversifying—how big an item is that on your strategic agenda, planning for a possible 'no deal'?
I think diversification has always been something that the agricultural sector have looked at, wanted to do and been engaged with. I don't think I can take any credit for encouraging diversification; I think they're a sector that's had to do it. I remember, on one of my very, very first farm visits four years ago, somebody proudly showing me the one turbine he had on this farm and the income that brought in to the farm, and obviously his commitment to renewable energy and climate change. So, I think it's always something that they've been very good at doing. I remember somebody saying to me about three years ago, 'I don't think there's any room for any more glamping sites.' However, we have seen an increase in farmers providing holiday accommodation.
COVID-19 showed me how many farmers have got holiday accommodation on their land, how many farmers were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. So, obviously it's something that is evolving all the time, but clearly they're looking at it more closely in light of a 'no deal' Brexit. I have to say, the farming unions have been very good at lobbying the UK Government. Most of them sit on different boards. Both of our farming unions in Wales have seats at the table around the commission that's been brought forward around food. So, I think they're very well represented and very vocal.
Okay. We can all point to good examples, but overall, there are certainly many farmers who are just hoping for the best and not preparing for the worst. Particularly, I remember that the NFU is kicking up against some of the EU crop diversification measures that they're hoping that Wales won't any longer have to pay attention to. But presumably, that's all designed for improving food resilience.
I think you're right about some farmers; I don't think that that's the majority. I think many of them are very, very well aware of—I think you used the word 'volcano', the huge difficulties that would come if we left the EU without a deal. And certainly, the majority of farmers that I speak to are aware. Are they prepared in a way that we would want them to be? Again, probably the farmers that I meet through the farming unions, of course, they're incredibly well prepared and incredibly well informed. People who aren't members of farming unions—I don't know if they understand the significant impact that it will have. I don't think Welsh Government can do any more; we're constantly trying to get that message out.
I mentioned in the Chamber yesterday in the oral questions session that I am concerned about business preparedness, and that obviously includes farmers, because we've marched them up to the top of the hill how many times now, and then had to march them down. It's really hard and COVID-19—they're only just coming out of that kind of seismic shock as well. So, I think it is a very, very difficult time for all our businesses.
Okay. And given that we're dealing with three different crises all at once, where does biodiversity sit in all the complex uncertainties that you're having to deal with?
Well, we still have biodiversity challenges, don't we? And I've made it very clear that, you know, it's like climate change—they haven't gone away, they're still there. You could say that they're more of an emergency in some areas than COVID-19, because of the long-term impacts.
I think one of the things I'm most proud of in my department—and the officials who are on the line, they've all been dealing with the COVID-19 response, but it's our response to business as usual as well. And whilst, of course, we haven't been able to give some areas the attention we would've wanted to and things have slipped, we've brought lots of really good schemes—if you think about our local places for nature scheme and the national forest is still progressing. So, I'm really pleased that we've been able to continue that, but, of course, our biodiversity challenges are still there.
Okay, thank you.
Hi, Lesley—hi, Minister. Has the Minister, or will you be implementing the recommendation of the Wales Audit Office report on ensuring value for money from rural development grants made without competition?
The audit office report came out a couple of months ago. Again, I had a question on this yesterday and you may have heard me saying that the appropriate place for that to be scrutinised is at the Public Accounts Committee, and officials are due to appear, I think it's next month, in front of that committee.
Many of the recommendations that came out of the Wales Audit Office had already been picked up by officials and changes had been made. So, obviously, there is a process to go through, and as I say, I think it's next month that officials are appearing in front of PAC.
Thank you. On badger culling, would you state, Minister, why only a handful of badger cull licences are being issued annually, yet around 10,000 cattle are slaughtered due to tuberculosis?
Well, on our bovine TB policy, as you know, I don't have badger cull as part of our bovine TB policy. We do have these bespoke farms where a bespoke package is worked up where we have those very, very long-term and persistent bovine TB outbreaks. I think it's a good opportunity to say that the latest statistics are good. We saw a 16 per cent reduction in incidence and a 12 per cent reduction in cattle slaughtered. We have lots of policies within that policy; badger culling is not one. But on those bespoke farms, you know, those long-term outbreaks, we do have—. Part of the policy is that if it is seen that there is wildlife impact, then a licence can be applied for. I never know where those licences have been applied for; that's something, as Minister, I would have absolute no knowledge of where they are. I will bring my bovine TB expert in—you'll get used to this, Janet, on this committee. Christianne, as our chief veterinary officer, can say a bit more about your question.
Thank you, Minister. Yes, so, of course, our TB eradication programme is based on the four basic principles of infectious disease control, which we're facing in a human pandemic situation right now, and making sure we tackle all sources of infection is very important. However, our annual testing programme for cattle over the last 12 years or so has really demonstrated that being consistent in our approach with cattle measures is really important. And one thing we've noticed over the last few years is that where we have a spike in infection, in an area with previously low incidence—for example, north-west Wales, which you, of course, will be interested in—we've been able to show that, without a doubt, the movement of cattle into that area has been causing the spike in infection. So, everyone has a role to play in keeping infection out of our low-incidence areas, whilst we work hard to deal with those difficult breakdowns, which the Minister has just mentioned.
Thank you. And then my final—
Can I just say, on Christianne's point, because I think this is a really important point—? We have, unfortunately, seen a rise in north-west Wales, and we know that's due to cattle movement. So, again, what Christianne is saying is absolutely right—everybody's got a part to play in trying to keep—. You know, I would love be able to declare north-west Wales as free of bovine TB, so everybody's got a part to play.
Thanks. And my final question for this week on agriculture: what steps is the Welsh Government taking in reaction to the threat from Brussels that they would make it illegal for animal products to be sold from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and the EU?
Well, clearly, this is part of the Northern Ireland protocol. It's always a standing item at our DEFRA IMG. It was discussed and debated in great detail on Monday for about half an hour. This is a very, very difficult area. We always make sure that the DEFRA Secretary of State knows all our views so that that will inform the discussions that the UK Government are having with the European Union. We are very, very concerned about that movement, not just Wales, but Scotland as well, and, indeed, Northern Ireland. I just don't think the UK Government thought about Northern Ireland in the way that they should and, clearly, the Northern Ireland protocol is a very difficult area that we need to find a solution to, with, what, 96 days to go.
Moving on to Llyr.
Yes, thank you, Chair. I'm quite bemused by the Conservative Member blaming other people for the Brexit mess that we're facing at the moment and the potential oblivion farmers are facing in the next few months. But I was equally shocked by your description a moment ago, Minister, of the TB statistics. You said the latest statistics are good. I mean, the latest statistics are atrocious, and they have been for many years. I mean, you might assert that they're getting better; I think others might disagree with that, but there's no way in the world that you could describe the situation as good, surely. [Inaudible.]
You know, I mentioned the two facts, the two statistics I came out with—16 per cent reduction in incidence and 12 per cent reduction in cattle slaughter. I think both of those, you know—. Sixteen per cent and 12 per cent reductions are good.
Relative to where we were, what you said was that latest statistics are good, and the latest statistics aren't where we want to be, obviously. That's the point I was trying to make. Anyway—
Well, I would like to be TB free, but I think those two statistics I mention are good.
I just wanted to pick up on the rural development plan. Clearly, we've raised previously concerns about potential underspends in RDP—money not committed by the end of this year potentially being lost. The £106 million fund that you announced recently—I presume that's partly there in order to mop up any underspend. Am I right in that respect?
Well, the £106 million I announced, I think it was last week, over the next three years was to make sure, as you say, that that money is spent. It is incredibly hard; it's something I have to keep on top of probably most weeks. You know, I'm always going on about underspends, but that investment was to obviously support not just the rural economy but a lot of our own priorities as well.
So, it is there, primarily—or not primarily, but the £53 million-odd that comes from the RDP is potentially from that underspend. The rest, I know, is—there's a large domestic investment as well as part of that.
I'm just wondering, really, because we're, what, 12, 13, 14 weeks away from the end of the year, so schemes will need to be developed and designed, application forms will need to be completed and submitted, those will need to be processed, the legal contracts and stuff will need to be drawn up and finally committed. Are you confident that all of that can be achieved within 12 or 13 weeks?
I'm going to hand over to Tim, because Tim has been dealing with the technical aspects of this.
Thank you, Minister. I'll pick up two issues, one about the level of commitment of funds. As you say, part of the £106 million is uncommitted money, and that's £53 million. We are also, to get to that £106 million number, making assumptions about underspends and projects that don't claim and so on, to ensure that we get to the full spend. So, we are overcommitting the programme, and part of that £106 million is that. Now, this is normal programme management. It's not, I don't think, an undue financial risk. It is recognising that many projects simply don't spend what they have been allocated, and it's just making sure we can account for that.
In terms of opening the windows, we will be putting advice to the Minister very, very shortly on a whole string of those windows that we will be able to start opening, some very soon, within a matter of a couple of weeks, I would hope. They don't all have to be done by the end of this calendar year or financial year. We have got longer to commit. Some of this money is domestic, so we've got more control, but the EU have changed the rules that mean that we only have to commit the money by the end of 2023—commit and spend. So, what had looked to be a really challenging target of having it all committed by the end of this calendar year has been relaxed, so we can spread those windows over a bit of a longer period, which I think will help the potential beneficiaries as well, because it doesn't compress everything into a very short period of time for them to make up all their applications. But we're hoping that we can—we're just finalising the detail of the sequencing of what goes when and we hope to be able to announce that shortly.
Thank you for that. I think some people are also concerned, not just with the timescale, but with the suggestion the Minister made earlier about utilising the money for broader purposes or aims that you had within your department, or as a Government. What would you say to people who are a bit concerned that maybe the dilution of this money means that it isn't really as sharply focused on the priorities that this money was originally intended for?
I have been told of concerns, probably by the same people as you. What was really important was that this investment went into the rural economy, so I think it's very widely spread across several Welsh Government priorities. So, I was challenged around woodland creation, for instance, but I think it's really important that funding goes to that and restoration. Jenny Rathbone mentioned before about the biodiversity crisis. It's really important that we build our resilience on that. I had a certain pot of money, I've looked at all our priorities and made sure that everybody's got a share, but nobody is going to be happy all the time. But I think it's really important that we look at where there have been severe impacts from COVID-19, as well, and everything I have brought forward is within the agreed priorities of the RDP, which were fixed back in 2014, before my time.
That's an important point. Okay.
We're going to have to move on, Llyr.
Okay. Neil Hamilton. You're on mute, Neil.
Good afternoon, Minister, last but not least. I'm going to ask a few questions about trade negotiations, but before I come to that, I'd like to ask a question about what if those negotiations fail. We import a substantial quantity of temperate foodstuffs that we could grow ourselves, and I wonder, in the event of a failure of these negotiations, what work has been done, not just by Government, but all interested parties, to provide for the possibilities of import substitution as a means of alleviating the problems that would be caused by a failure of negotiations.
Obviously, these discussions are ongoing. They're led by my colleague Eluned Morgan. I know it's something that the commission that the farming unions are sitting on, the new commission that DEFRA have brought forward—. While there are concerns about the timescale of that commission, this is something that is being done. I shall go over to Tim to answer your question about the current work that we're doing. I know we did a significant piece of work last year as we were leading up, as we thought, to a 'no deal' exit, and I know officials have started to pick up the work now. Tim.
Yes, we've got short-term issues about managing continuity of supply, particularly risks of disruption, especially around the short straits crossings in Dover and the channel tunnel, and how you prioritise things like foodstuffs. That is primarily a UK Government issue, both for overall responsibility and geography, but we keep closely involved in that, because obviously what comes in there feeds us all. In terms of the longer term adaptation to changed opportunities, that will come both from import substitution and some of the changes depending on where you end up in tariff regimes with the EU. Some of the work that I think we've explained to the committee previously shows that, in some sectors, there are opportunities for us to replace what is currently imported. In some—and unfortunately for Wales, sheep meat is one of them—the downsides very much outweigh any import substitution opportunities. But some of those longer term market opportunities are things that we want to make sure that the industry has the opportunity both to understand what those opportunities might be, say, coming from new trade agreements, but also to be able to adapt their production to those changed potential demands. But I think some of that is more medium term than short term. Our short-term focus is ensuring that the supply can still come into the country.
I appreciate that, from a Government perspective, that's your part of the job. You have regular meetings with supermarkets, for example, from whom the vast majority of our food is now purchased. Are they not looking at the possibilities of sourcing food that will become uneconomic to import from domestic suppliers at this stage? Have they got contingency plans that would help to soften the blow of there being no deal?
I certainly haven't had those discussions with the supermarkets direct. As I say, other colleagues in the Welsh Government have, and I know the UK Government also have those discussions direct. But my discussions with supermarkets have been primarily around supply during COVID-19. To be honest, COVID-19 has shown me how many more discussions I should be having with supermarkets, because I think you're right—they need to be aware of what's coming down the line, in a way that I don't think the people I'm discussing the supply with at the time are, but there are other parts of Government that will be having those discussions.
Well, obviously we all hope that there will be some kind of deal coming out of all this, and maybe they're just hoping for the best. That wouldn't be a sensible business attitude to take in my view, but that's obviously not Government responsibility. But moving on to the trade negotiations themselves, anybody who's ever had anything to do with a negotiation in the EU or the Council of Ministers or wherever knows that negotiations expand to fill the time available and it's always a last-minute cliffhanger where the agreement is finally reached at 3 o'clock in the morning on the last day, and officials get a sleepless night because they have to write it all up before breakfast. But at the minute, can you tell us anything about what is being achieved in these negotiations? David Frost said the other day that a deal was possible and that the talks were stalling because of fishing and state aid. Well, that of course leaves the possibility of agreement having already been reached in broad terms on a lot of other things. So, within your portfolio, where do you think we are on freedom to trade in agricultural products? Lamb is the biggest possible bugbear that we've got, but there are other areas where the EU itself has a substantial surplus in trade, which they would lose in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit. So, given that negotiators haven't just been sitting there with blank faces over the last few months, there must be signs of what might have already been agreed. Can you shed any light on this?
Probably very little. As I said, you might have a different view of negotiations; I don't know how much experience you have of negotiations, but you may have a very different experience to me. I'm certainly not enjoying listening to what's coming out of negotiations, certainly from what I hear from my colleague Eluned Morgan. You'll be aware of what round of negotiations we're on with different countries across the world. My officials, primarily, have been engaged on positions with Japan—and you'll be aware of the news from there—and Australia and New Zealand, both through the Department for International Trade and, of course, DEFRA.
Let's be fair, I think engagement is quite positive in that respect, but I go back to what I always say: we need a free trade agreement with the EU. They're our closest neighbours. Why would we close our door on 0.5 billion people that we've been able to have unfettered market access with? I just don't understand why we wouldn't want that deal. So, I know from my discussions with farming unions particularly—. We had a discussion about this—I met the NFU on Monday and I'm meeting the FUW next Monday—and they have grave concerns around the way that the negotiations are going.
You mentioned fisheries in particular, and there is divergence in the areas of fisheries and the fact that we couldn't have a level playing field. The UK Government are indicating there's a lot more further work that needs to be done, particularly on subsidies also. So these are very, very difficult negotiations. I'm not sure I have your confidence that it's all a game of poker.
Well, it is a game of poker. Whether there'll actually be an agreement is still up in the air, of course, and we have to plan on the basis that there won't be a deal, if we're going to be prudent. So, I'm just interested to know where there might have been any areas where there are fewer sensitivities, whether there's any agreement or not. I appreciate this is not directly your responsibility, it's Eluned Morgan's, but as agriculture is the biggest political hot potato probably in the course of the whole negotiations, then clearly you're directly affected very intimately by all of this.
Of course, we do want a deal. I don't think that Britain is the party that doesn't want a deal. The negotiating ploys that are holding things up are things like the border in the middle of the Irish sea, for example, the extra territorial reach that the EU seeks for its laws and the European court. That's not something that we can debate in this committee. But, at the more practical level of negotiations on products, it would be very useful for us to know how advanced we are in some areas, however a lack of progress might be the greatest feature in, for example, fisheries, where again access to British waters is a massive issue, because one of the reasons why we're leaving the EU is to end the common fisheries policy and to keep our sovereign waters for our own fishermen.
I'm not sure I agree with you on your view of who is holding what up. Certainly, discussions I've had at a ministerial level don't fill me with confidence that the UK Government are doing all they can to get a trade deal. I don't think it's as simple as you can just blame Brussels for everything and for all ills. I think I've been able to say as much as I can say. I know my officials have been very engaged, for instance, around the US negotiations, which are being held this month. I don't know if there's anybody with me, Tim or Gian Marco, who can say anything further. I know they're both very experienced in negotiations. I'm sure Tim can tell us about his very late nights negotiating, but I don't know if you're able to say anything in addition around current negotiations. Gian Marco is unmuted, I notice.
Just to say, yes, European negotiations do tend to run late and long; I speak with bitter experience. Obviously, this is something that UK Government leads on in those negotiations; we are not really directly involved. What we are focusing on is the things that we are responsible for and that we have to make sure are in place for whatever the outcome of those negotiations. Obviously, we have to prepare for a 'no deal' outcome and that we're making sure we've got all the necessary legislation. You will be all very well aware of the sheer volume of legislation that is being dealt with and that you're being asked to scrutinise, but also for operational systems. Planning for a full 'no deal' means a lot of those things will be needed, or large chunks of them will be needed, with a good trade deal as well. So, that's really what our focus is on—on the preparing for the different systems and legislation that will be needed from 1 January, come what may.
My experience relating to the EU is pretty ancient now. Bizarrely, Michael Heseltine made me the Europe Minister in the Department of Trade and Industry way back in 1992, so I was on the Council of Ministers for a couple of years. But, moving on to the question of the negotiations that are going on with other countries outside the EU and the opportunities that are coming from that, we know, as you've said, Minister, a minute ago, we've got progress with Japan, Australia, New Zealand and other countries. How confident are you that, in the course of the next few months, we'll be able to stitch together agreements with other important countries? The Mercosur countries, for example, in South America got quite advanced in negotiations with the EU and then the negotiations failed. Is there a possibility of picking up where that left off?
As Tim said, it's the UK Government that leads on these discussions. We feed in at an official level, I think, probably on a daily basis, but, certainly, I am not party to that information that you're asking about now.
At that point, can we move on to Janet and plastic and pollution?
Thank you. Minister, you'll be aware that, in England, they are looking to increase the surcharge, you know, the carrier bag tax, to 10p. Now, I know myself that when I go into any supermarket, it's very rare that you can actually buy a carrier bag for 5p; they're now 10p and 15p, much stronger, take a lot longer to disintegrate and what have you. So, my question is: do you have any thoughts about increasing—? Because many charities are losing out because there is very little now in the way of a 5p carrier bag. Do you have any thoughts about increasing the levy to 10p?
That's not a matter for me; that's not in my portfolio. That's a matter for my colleague Hannah Blythyn.
Really? Okay. So, then, what progress has been made in introducing—? Can I just go back on that, though? Surely, you're aware of the whole portfolio, so is it not passing the buck a bit to pass it to another—?
Well, no. I don't set the ministerial portfolios; that's a matter for the First Minister, and Hannah Blythyn leads on plastics. At the moment, we're out to consultation, for instance, on single-use plastic, so, obviously, it's Hannah Blythyn that's launched that consultation. She's the Deputy Minister with Julie James, the Minister for local government, and plastics is in her portfolio, not mine.
So, no point asking you about the deposit-return scheme in Wales, then?
Well, you can ask me. I know the general policy, and, obviously, it's something that we're looking at, and we had a consultation on that, I think, last year. But, no, it sits in Hannah Blythyn's portfolio.
Okay. Nice try on my part, then.
Thank you, Janet. On to the blue-green recovery. Can Joyce start?
Right. Something that is in your portfolio is the blue-green recovery. And I suppose the first thing I'd like to ask is that, when we talk about the green recovery, we also talk about the blue recovery at the same time, and that we keep those two very connected, which they clearly are, because if the rivers are not in a good state, or if the land is not in a good state, both of them will either fail or succeed at the same time. So, that's my request when we're talking about the blue-green recovery. Clearly, post COVID, and pre COVID, there has been a lot of talk about green recovery, and, again, it is just green recovery, and it means a lot of things to a lot of people, and it crosses lots of portfolios, and some of them clearly don't belong to you. We did go out to consultation; there was a consultation asking the public for their opinions, stakeholders particularly, and what they thought it should look like—what a green recovery should look like. And the end of that was July—the end of that process—and, then, the work of considering what that is going to look like should be taking place now.
So, my question is, clearly—. You will have had a lot of information, I'm assuming, unless you tell me that COVID got in the way, and that's fair enough if it did. There are an awful lot of stakeholders, there are an awful lot of opinions, but, ultimately, Government will make a decision on the way forward. So, my question is, clearly: what considerations, under your portfolio, are you giving to the green-blue recovery, going forward?
So, I think you make a very important point about green-blue. We do tend to refer to it as the green recovery. And, as you say, we went out to the people of Wales over the summer to look at what they thought we should do around a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic—how we rebuild our economy. It does mean lots of things to lots of people, and, if you ask one person, somebody else could tell you something different, and I think that's really—. I'm sure the responses we've had from stakeholders will give us that. As you know, the Counsel General is leading a series of advisory group round-table discussions with experts from across many areas of our society, both within Wales and further afield.
From my portfolio, one of the things I asked Sir David Henshaw, the Chair of Natural Resources Wales, was to look at this from right across my portfolio, and I know there have been several meetings and I am awaiting a report around that. What we're looking at from a green recovery is around two areas. We're looking at stabilisation and reconstructing. So, I suppose we need to stabilise. We need to mitigate the direct effects of the pandemic, and then we need to ensure that the economy and our public services are strong enough going forward, and then, obviously, reconstruction will be the longer term challenge, and our desire to make sure that we take the public with us around this and what we want to do, and how we deliver better for them.
The climate emergency, I mentioned earlier, for me, could be seen as more of an emergency. So, you only have to see—. I was watching the news last night, and looking at the Amazon and the fires in the Amazon, and it just fills you with complete dread. If that's happening in the Amazon, we know the effect it will have globally. So, I think, sometimes, it is hard to say what that green recovery is. It's a bit like sustainable development. I remember when we first started looking at the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and people just think of 'sustainable' as the environment, and, of course, it isn't, and I don't think the green recovery is just environmental either; it has to be right across all parts of Government.
So, we're looking at it from right across the portfolio. So, for me, an important bit—you ask about my portfolio—is around energy efficiency. So, again, retrofitting homes—we know that we need to do far more about that and I think this is an opportunity now, looking at the UK Government's Kickstart Scheme, for instance. So, one of the things I've asked David Henshaw to look at is what we can do with that age group—that 16-24 age group—to look at how we not necessarily reskill because it could be to skill that group of people, and one area I would like to see is around retrofitting, and also renewable energy. I was contacted by a constituent a couple of weeks ago who is being made redundant from Airbus, and he wants to look at how he can now fit wind turbines. So, we need to make sure that that's available—that those retraining opportunities are available.
Okay, and thank you for that. We have got the future generations Act and it does actually commit us in Wales to sourcing everything sustainably and, as you said, that impacts on people and places as well as everything else.
There's clear evidence coming out now that, whilst you mentioned the fires that we could all see yesterday, the other impact is the clearing of large forests and the deforestation, releasing wildlife ever closer to human beings. The consequence can be pandemics like the one we are currently in. We know the jury hasn't settled on this yet, but we have a part to play here in Wales, as every other country does, to ensure that we're not inflicting wider possibilities to release diseases that would have, and always have, existed in wildlife at a distance away from human beings. I think anything that we can do, as a nation, to prevent any further deterioration of forest and land that should stay within the ownership, I suppose, of wildlife, we must be seen to do.
So, I suppose my question here is: what sorts of conversations, if any, have been happening amongst all players on this particular agenda, because this is the agenda that I think is one of the most important going forward? It has very clear implications for us as a population worldwide.
I think you're right about thinking about our actions and what we do, and I think this pandemic has really focused that. So, one area of work within my portfolio—because you're obviously asking about what we're doing within the portfolio—is the work that we do in the Animal and Plant Health Agency, and one piece of work—. Again, I've just announced further funding in the rural development plan—the £106 million that Llyr referred to before—around the work that's being done by the antimicrobial resistance group within Christianne's part of the portfolio and that antimicrobial resistance programme. Because, as you say, we don't know, but there's certainly lots of discussion around where COVID-19 began, and so that reduction in the use of antibiotics in agriculture and in food is really important. So, I suppose, looking at it overall, there's lots of work that's going on around that, because the AMR group—and it was a virtual meeting that I was able to pop into—and to listen to the work that's being undertaken by that group, is incredibly important in relation to animal disease.
In relation to deforestation, one of the areas—. We don't plant enough trees; I would never defend the number of trees that we're planting, and I'm doing all I can to try and encourage more trees to be planted, and certainly there is concern where deforestation—there has to be a very good reason for that. We don't want to introduce new diseases. We have very, very strict border control. One of my concerns around borders now, as we exit the EU, is that things could go backwards, if you like. So, again, going back to the RDP—more funding for Glastir to help get more trees planted. So, there's a huge amount of work going on right across the portfolio in relation to that. Those are just some examples.
Okay. And you did mention energy, of course. You're right about the retrofitting, because we've got more houses that exist now than the ones we're likely to build within the next 20 years that are high on energy consumption. And, of course, that helps with something else that's not in your portfolio, which is to alleviate fuel poverty, which is again—
That is in my portfolio.
Oh, it is? Oh, well, there you are. [Laughter.] I was trying to guess and I got it wrong, so there you go. It makes sense that it is, because the two things go side by side. But moving forward and trying to gauge the energy needs of—. And I'm not asking you to write a paper on it—
—or give me an immediate answer, but to gauge the energy needs of the way people are working now. It is a fact—and I'm sure it's been factored in—that the more that people work at home, in individual settings, they will thereby need more energy to service than they might do if they were all working together in a single setting. So, that energy has to be produced to service that need, and we've just seen the announcement of the withdrawal on Wylfa just this week. So, there's a sort of urgency that must be coming to the fore on how we're going to generate the energy that we'd need when we know that one source that we were hoping we might be able to rely on has disappeared.
So, it was very disappointing to have the announcement from Hitachi, yesterday or the day before, around that. I think that they will be looking to see if there is another organisation that can look for that. Certainly, it was very disappointing, and the reasons that they gave as well.
You're right, we are seeing—. I think the latest figure I saw is about 40 per cent of people are still working from home, and, obviously, if you look back at the period of the pandemic, the weather has been predominantly very good. But, obviously, as we come into the winter period—. It will be interesting to see what's going to happen to these very large—. I have two daughters who work in very large buildings and, clearly, that's not happening at the moment. So, if they're working from home, obviously they will need heating at home. But it's very interesting to see how those offices and those institutions will be used. So, it's all going to have to be factored in as part of that recovery process.
The retrofitting, I think, is really important. We know that we've got old stock in Wales—a very old housing stock. We've made great improvements in relation to the Welsh housing quality standard—the houses have now been brought up to a certain standard. But, clearly, what's really important—and I know this is one of Jenny's bugbears—is that we don't build houses that will need retrofitting 25 years down the line, and I know Julie James, as the housing Minister, takes that work very seriously. We've had the report from Chris Jofeh that's being worked on now.
Okay. We're in the last minute. Jenny did ask to speak on this, so over to you, Jenny, for the last question.
Thank you. I just wanted to pick on the point that was made in the NRW report about the lack of any long-term thinking and planning, across Governments generally, not specific to Welsh Government, and that's certainly in evidence in the last 50 years of failure to look at an import substitution strategy, but NRW is praiseworthy—the climate team Wales cross-cutting approach, which is good news. So, it isn't just about developing more renewable energy; it's about what your team is doing to ensure that we're actually manufacturing the stalks on which they put the windmills and ensuring we have bicycles produced locally, because there are no bicycles to buy, virtually; they're going out the door the minute they arrive in the shop. So, these are the important areas that we need to be ensuring that all these people who are being made redundant from aerospace and automotive are put to work on—the things that we really, really need in order to deliver on the climate change agenda. So, could you just tell us how you're ensuring that other departments have really got this front and centre of their minds?
I have discussions with the education Minister and the Deputy Minister for skills around what skills will be required, so wind turbines and renewable energy is one area. I think marine offshore wind; floating wind is something that I'm seeing far more developers in now than I was three, four years ago when I first came into the portfolio, around offshore wind, for instance. That just blows my mind, offshore wind—it's just incredible what developers are coming up with. But you're right, we need people to be able to then install those—what's the word—installations. Absolutely. I remember when I was skills Minister 10 years ago, it was all about solar panels and making sure our electricians could put solar panels in, and we can see where we are just 10 years later—that's not the case.
So, I think it is really important to make sure that we have those skills available for when those developments come through. COVID-19 does give us an opportunity, I think, to look at that and, as I say, I've asked Sir David Henshaw, as part of the piece of work that he's doing for me, to look at the skills that are going to be required in the future. I wasn't aware that it took that long to—. I only know one person in my family who has got a bike and got one straight away, so I wasn't aware that that was an issue. I'd be very happy to raise that—
Schools cannot buy them. Schools who want to bulk-buy bicycles can't get them. They are are not there.
Strangely enough, I mentioned before that I'd been to meet some Wye Valley food and drink producers, and it was on a little industrial estate right on the border, just past Chepstow, and when I went in there were about 1,000—honestly, there were so many—bicycles there, so I asked them what it was and it was a social enterprise that was repairing them for reuse. So, there's clearly a good market there and I hope I've given them a plug now.
But it's a finite market, though, because all those bikes hidden away in garages will come back into use. We need to manufacture more if we're going to get people using them as a mode of transport.
Thank you, Jenny, thank you, Minister, and thank you, officials, for coming along. Yet again, we've run out of time before we've run out of questions, but thank you for coming along and answering the questions we've raised. As you know, you'll get a transcript and an opportunity to check through it. As I tell everybody, the thing to make sure is, if you're anything like me and you move around a bit, sometimes they miss a few words. So, just be careful of that. Thank you very much.
We've now got a lot of items to note. If I start going through them: correspondence from the Chair to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs following the scrutiny session on 9 July; correspondence from Natural Resources Wales following evidence at the committee on 9 July; correspondence from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs—informed purchasing and Animal Welfare (Dog Breeding) (Wales) Regulations 2014; Welsh Government response to letter from the Chair relating to the supplementary legislative consent memorandum for the UK Fisheries Bill; Welsh Government response to the committee's report on the legislative consent memorandum for the UK Environment Bill; Welsh Government response to the committee's report on the supplementary legislative consent memorandum for the Agriculture Bill; correspondence from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on the basic payment scheme and rural support legislative framework from 2021; correspondence between the Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee and the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on the Agricultural Wages (Wales) Order 2020; correspondence between the Chair and the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on the UK emissions trading scheme; correspondence from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to the Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee on the UK emissions trading scheme; correspondence from the Chair of the Finance Committee on the Welsh Government's draft budget; correspondence from David Hughes in relation to gene editing. And I think that's it. Are we prepared to note those?
Yes, happy to note those, Chair.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod ac o'r cyfarfod ar 24 Medi 2020 yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) a (ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting and from the meeting on 24 September 2020 in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Can I move a motion now under Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting and from the meeting on 24 September? Yes? Is that agreed? Okay. Thank you.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:35.
The public part of the meeting ended at 15:35.